20 years ago, Gavin Rossdale of Bush had 'one of the best days of my life' in Fort Worth

A month shy of 20 years ago, a relatively new Texas Motor Speedway in far north Fort Worth was the focus of the rock 'n' roll universe for one day.

On June 21, 1997, the massive stadium hosted Blockbuster Rockfest starring '90s rock radio powers Bush, No Doubt, Collective Soul, Matchbox 20, Jewel, Wallflowers, Sugar Ray, Third Eye Blind, Counting Crows and even local folk-rock darlings Jackopierce.

Between the lineup and the now outdated sponsor, the supreme '90s-ness of that day is at once hilarious and a little heart-tugging for those of us who were there. I had just turned 21 myself, and seeing the MTV News tower off in the distance near the gigantic stage was enough to send my heart fluttering. Because, surely, Serena Altschul could sense my presence.

Estimates of the crowds at Rockfest at Texas Motor Speedway range from 150,000 all the way up to 500,000.

Either number puts this festival at or near the top of any list of D-FW's largest concerts.

(Another on that list should be the legendary Texas International Pop Festival, a 150,000-person event in Lewisville a couple of weeks after the mother of all music fests, Woodstock, in 1969.)

As I alternated between a spot on the front stretch of the track near turn four and a grassy space just inside of the track closer to the garage area at Rockfest, you could've told me there were millions of people there and I would've believed you.

And because it was a pre-social media 1997, the online accounts of that day aren't terribly plentiful. Even if there were blog posts, reviews and photos floating around, it's unlikely casual fans could agree on a number of people there that day. Even performers from the show have their own takes on how many were on hand.

"I've been told there were around 350,000 people there," says Gavin Rossdale over the phone recently as he and his band prepare for the upcoming tour which brings them to Gas Monkey Live! in Dallas later this week. As lead singer for Bush, the multi-platinum British headliners for Rockfest were touring behind their hit album Razorblade Suitcase at the time.

Rossdale adds with a laugh, "And it was one of the best days of my life, but it was so long ago, I'm now convinced there were 450,000 people there. I had spent the day with Gwen [Stefani, ex-wife and lead singer for No Doubt] and it was just a special day all-around, really."

Almost every band from back then remains a highly recognizable name today. In 1997, Third Eye Blind, Matchbox 20 and Sugar Ray were young and hungry and clearly awed by the swarm of humanity in front of them.

Now, Paula Cole, the Wallflowers and Jewel were way too mellow for my taste as midday performers. But Collective Soul gave us a fun take on Ozzy's "Crazy Train," and Counting Crows' sunset performance was great. Admittedly, it was also a welcome sign that the affair, which had begun around 7 a.m. for me, was drawing to a close.

No Doubt's penultimate set was an eventful, harrowing hour, and not only thanks to Stefani's jumping and climbing on stage scaffolding. You see, it was an all-day rock festival, and the natives were getting restless, which meant stuff was getting thrown and people were getting physical. I ended up leaving before Bush took the stage because of the mayhem springing up around me, but I've heard it was quite the set. Even 20 years later, and with a brand-new record out, Rossdale is still on modern radio, with spins on classic rock radio thrown in.

He looks back on the past fondly, while admitting he's not ready to stop moving ahead from those massive headliner days.

"One day, maybe we'll get back to playing speedways," Rossdale says. "For now, I just don't want anyone tapping me on the shoulder, telling me it's time to stop."

Bush performs Thursday, May 4 at 7 p.m. at Gas Monkey Live!, 10110 Technology Blvd., Dallas. Details here.

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